OHL Preview – Saginaw Spirit
Coach: Troy Smith (29-30-0-9)
Saginaw entered last season having missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. They’ve never made it past the 2nd round in those 11 prior years mind you and did miss with 63 points in 2016-17. However, they were determined to get back there again and after a bit of an up and down season they finished with 67 points which ended up being 8th in the Conference and a matchup with the league leading Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. They were swept by The Soo rather easily thus ending their season.
There were very few positives from this past season as this team was pretty much below average all year. Their longest winning streak was 5 games, their longest losing streak was 6 games. They were 19th in goals for and 11th in goals against. Their Powerplay was last in the league (20th) and their Penalty Kill was 13th in the league. There wasn’t a lot of excitement around the team and their leading scorer was an overage defenceman who finished with 53 points in 68 games. They were just good enough to sneak into the playoffs but that was about it.
This 2018 season offers a bit more optimism than of recent years as Saginaw has several players who are poised to have big years and a couple of fresh faces looking to compliment to current the group. They do lose two of their top 3 points leaders from a year ago but have a few 18 yr olds who are ready to step up and help fill the void. They have also drafted really well over the last few years and look to reap the benefits of that this season where it appears it may all come together. The most points they’ve had in the last 7 seasons is 74 points but if their goaltending holds up and they stay relatively healthy they have a real shot at besting that mark this year. This team is sneaky good.
The big key for this team was getting Bode Wilde (2nd rd, NYI) signed or trading him for more help. Drafted in the 2nd rd of the 2016 OHL Draft by The Spirit, Wilde was committed to the University of Michigan but changed his mind and is apparently determined to play in the OHL. He now has officially committed and will be playing for Saginaw this season which is a huge for this team. He is big, fast and can really shoot the puck. He is also an excellent Powerplay quarterback which is something that this team could really use because as mentioned they were last in the OHL in PP% last season. His addition on the blueline is a huge boost and might just catapult the Spirit ahead of a couple other teams in their division now that he has joined.
Lost in all the Wilde controversy is the fact another Saginaw draft pick de-committed from Michigan and is ready to join the Spirit this year. Cole Perfetti, a dynamic scorer from the Greater Toronto Minor Midget system decided to play in the OHL this year instead of Michigan and has already signed. Perfetti, destroyed the GTMMHL last season for the Vaughan Kings scoring 52 goals and 125 points in 64 games which was 36 points more than the 2nd place scorer who was his teammate. He was drafted in the 1st round (5th overall) by Saginaw in this year’s OHL draft.
Despite the possible additions the losses are still significant. Gone is overage C Mason Kohn who was acquired from Oshawa early last season, overager and leading scorer D Marcus Crawford (53 points in 68 games). Saginaw also loses their starting goalie Evan Cormier (4th rd, NJ). All 3 players were important contributors and need to be replaced. Captain Keaton Middleton was not signed by Toronto this June and is an overager so it’s very possible he’s back though he did attend San Jose’s camp trying to earn himself a contract.
Offensively how good could they be?
First of all, leading goal scorer RW Cole Coskey returns. The hardworking 19 yr old netted 27 goals last season and brings a contagious attitude and work ethic that hopefully rubs off on some of the younger players. He also led the team with 7 Powerplay goals in the regular season and had a pair of goals in the playoffs.
Two recently NHL drafted 5th round picks also return giving Saginaw the makings of a pretty good top line.
18 yr olds LW Blade Jenkins (5th rd, NYI) and C Damien Giroux (5th rd, MIN) are coming off almost identical seasons where they both netted 24 assists each while Jenkins had 20 goals and Giroux had 19. Neither were able to find the back of the net however during their 4 game playoff series against The Greyhounds so they’ll be looking to make up for that this season.
Veteran C Brady Gilmour (7th rd , DET) will also be back. He was banged up a bit last season but still managed 25 points in 41 games. More is expected of the former 1st rd OHL pick (6th overall) from 2015 though especially since he had 26 goals the season before last. As long as he stays healthy he should be able to exceed 30 goals this season as a 19 yr old. That would give Saginaw some much needed secondary scoring.
Another pair of 18 yr olds C Max Grondin and RW D.J. Busdeker both who went undrafted in this year’s draft – return. They will help provide a veteran presence and hopefully more offence as they are both coming off disappointing 27 point campaigns.
18 yr old RW Jake Goldowski who came from the U.S. National team managed to put up 21 points in 40 games and will be relied upon to build on his rookie season. Same thing for 17 yr old Ryan Stepien who will miss this year’s draft by 4 days. He scored 10 goals in 50 games.
2019 Draft Eligibles
LW Nicholas Porco was the 4th overall pick in the 2017 OHL draft. He has good size and speed and does a good job of creating offence off the rush. In 2017, he was voted the GTHL Minor Midget Player of the Year joining the likes of previous winners Connor McDavid, Dylan Strome & Adam Masherin. He scored 5 goals & 14 points in 57 games last season as a 16 yr old and should get plenty of opportunities to improve his draft stock this year.
LD Duncan Penman is not flashy but is a solid 2 way defender. He will be asked to do much more this year with two of Saginaw’s Top defencemen moving on. He was drafted in the 2nd round (25th overall) in the 2017 OHL Draft and last season he scored 4 goals & 10 points in 55 games.
Overall, it appears to be a deeper offensive unit with a much more experienced Top 6 than the year before. The Top line in particular has a chance to be really good and if Porco can elevate his game to another level or two it could give The Spirit two very capable scoring lines.
How good is the defensive unit?
A lot of how good Saginaw is on defence relied on the Bode Wilde situation. Now that he has signed and is officially in the fold this team just got a whole lot better on the back end. Wilde is a legit Top pair guy capable of providing plenty of offence 5 on 5 and also quarterbacking the stagnant Saginaw Powerplay. He skates extremely well and should provide plenty of support to their forwards now as a puck rushing, pinching defenceman. He also likes to play physical but will need to work on picking his spots and not getting caught out of position too much which was a knock on him at the NHL draft. Regardless, he is a dynamic Defenceman who should have an immediate impact on this team & immediate success on this league.
Captain Keaton Middleton is an overager this year trying to catch on to an NHL club. He wasn’t signed by Toronto after being drafted in the 4th round in 2016 by the Leafs and was recently invited to the San Jose Sharks development camp. Assuming he is not signed, he should return to Saginaw and help provide some much needed experience and stability on the back end.
Caleb Everett a bit surprisingly went undrafted by the NHL this past June. The 6’2″ right shot defenceman had a nice season with 6 goals and 20 points in 58 games. He is a smart, steady player who moves the puck well and is tough to play against. He also has good leadership qualities and could be a Captain candidate in the near future.
Hayden Davis another right shot dman had a bit of a breakout season offensively racking up 4 goals & 27 points in 68 games. He is a big, defence first player who does a real nice job in his own zone.
RD Reilly Webb (6th rd, DET) who came over from Hamilton last year is another stay at home type defenceman who will be back and should provide some stability on the back end.
Overall, this is a strong unit now with Wilde back there and the expected return of Middleton. Those two give the team a legitimate Top pair capable of matching up against other team’s best now and what has been a terrible weakness for the team (the man advantage) just got a whole lot more dangerous in the blink of an eye. He has a cannon of a shot and is a real threat to shoot on the Powerplay.
Ivan Prosvetov (4th rd, ARZ) is a 2018 Import pick brought in to solidify the goaltending position. At 6’5″ he is an imposing figure in net for opponents as he takes away a lot of the net up high but who also does a great job taking away the bottom of the net as a butterfly goalie. He has surprising athleticism for such a big guy but really needs to work on his fundamentals and on his weak glove. Nevertheless, he should have success in OHL based on his size and raw athleticism alone. Of note, he played in the USHL last season for the Youngstown Phantoms so he is already somewhat experienced in the North American game.
Backup Cameron Lamour returns but he really struggled last year and likely won’t be called upon much unless he dramatically improves. Last season he posted a 4.16 GAA & .867 SV% in 17 games.
Saginaw appears to be a team on the rise. Their roster is littered with 18 & 19 yr olds who if nothing else should bring a wealth of experience and leadership to the team. They should be able to score and defend well the real question will be in net. If Prosvetov holds up and brings some stability to the position they should be good. Now that Bode Wilde signed they have a chance to be real good. This team is a real sleeper this year watch out for the Saginaw Spirit.
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